Rate of known coronavirus cases in Taiwan is one-fifth the rate of known cases in the United States


Updates: An April 17, 2020 Guardian article is entitled: “Test and trace: lessons from Hong Kong on avoiding a coronavirus lockdown:Semi-autonomous city followed WHO advice and moved swiftly to stem contagion without rigid curbs on movement.”

An excerpt reads:

Governments in Europe and the US can learn from Hong Kong, which has kept infections and deaths from Covid-19 low without resorting to the socially and economically damaging lockdown that the UK and other countries have imposed, scientists say.

Hong Kong, with a population of nearly 7.5 million, had had just 715 confirmed cases of Covid-19 infection, including 94 asymptomatic infections, and four deaths as of March 31, according to a new study published on Friday in the Lancet.

Early in the pandemic, it was thought to be at significant risk because of travellers arriving from mainland China, but since early February the outbreak has appeared to be under control.

An April 22, 2020 New York Times article is entitled: “The pandemic offers Taiwan a chance to push back against China.”

An excerpt reads:

Officials in Taiwan are attempting to turn their success in battling the coronavirus at home into a geopolitical win, sending millions of masks emblazoned with the words “made in Taiwan” to countries hit hard by the crisis and launching a diplomatic and public relations campaign.

[End of updates]


I’ve been following news reports and journal articles about how countries such as South Korea, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan have addressed the coronavirus pandemic.

Tom Patterson Theatre Centre construction site, Stratford, March 18, 2020. Jaan Pill photo

These countries have so far done better than Italy, Spain, the United Kingdom, the United States, and some other countries in stopping spread of COVID-19.

At this post I will discuss reasons for such a difference.

I will also discuss whether or not the approach that has worked in Taiwan can be applied elsewhere.

March 19, 2020 CBC article describes success of Taiwan’s big data strategy for stopping COVID-19 spread

A March 19, 2020 CBC article is entitled: “Is Taiwan’s impressive response to COVID-19 possible in Canada? As Canada struggles to flatten the curve, Taiwan has so far avoided a big curve.”

Tom Patterson Theatre Centre construction site, Stratford, March 18, 2020. Jaan Pill photo

An excerpt from the article reads:

Taiwan is credited with sharply limiting the spread of coronavirus on the island by pairing and analyzing the electronic health and travel records of its residents, along with enacting other emergency measures.

But privacy experts say legal protections would prevent similar big data use in Canada.

From reading the above-noted CBC article and noting related CBC Radio and Television coverage of the same topic, what has stayed in mind is a comment from a Canadian researcher, who said the approach adopted in Taiwan would be viewed as “dystopian” from a Canadian perspective.

The use of the word “dystopian” in such a context serves to short-circuit further discussion. The use of such a pejorative term in such a context serves as a way to quickly put an end to further thought regarding the topic at hand. This is a feature of how language works.

Tom Patterson Theatre Centre construction site, Stratford, March 24, 2020. Jaan Pill photo

However, I more recently came across a Foreign Affairs article (please see below) that has prompted me to reconsider how Taiwan has used electronic records to get a good handle on things. That is to say, the above-noted CBC article about Taiwan is not the last word after all regarding how best to stop infections from spreading.

Let us consider the structure of a typical news report. A given amount of space is available, in the case of an article. A given amount of air time is available, in the case of a radio or television news item. Under such conditions, there is a limit to how much nuance and breadth can be included in a given message. Longer articles, such as ones I will review below, are useful in the event we seek to arrive at a more comprehensive view of topics related to COVID-19.

March 20, 2020 Foreign Affairs outlines Taiwan’s application of civic technology to reduce spread of coronavirus

The current post is concerned with a March 20, 2020 Foreign Affairs article entitled: “How civic technology can help stop a pandemic. Taiwan’s initial success is a model for the rest of the world.”

Tom Patterson Theatre Centre construction site, Stratford, March 18, 2020. Jaan Pill photo

The underlying message in the article is that Taiwan is a democracy, in which citizens have played a key role in sharing information and launching tech-based initiatives aimed at stopping spread of the coronavirus infection.

The article stands in strong contrast to the claim at the above-noted CBC article which dismisses the Taiwan data-sharing strategy as “dystopian” by Canadian standards.

March 3, 2020 JAMA Network article highlights role of big data analytics in stopping spread of coronavirus in Taiwan

A March 3, 2020 by JAMA Network article is entitled: “Response to COVID-19 in Taiwan. Big data analytics, new technology, and proactive testing.”

The article presents a science-based overview of how and why Taiwan’s approach to stopping the spread of COVID-19 is effective.

Ballantyne Ave. looking east toward Festival Theatre, Stratford, March 17, 2020. Jaan Pill photo

‘The tiresome chirping about so-called privacy rules needs to end’

A March 22, 2028 Globe and Mail article by André Picard is entitled: “Social distancing isn’t enough – we need to ramp up testing and transparency.”

An excerpt reads:

Countries that have been the most successful at tamping down the spread of coronavirus – such as South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore – have all used the double-barreled approach of simultaneously imposing extreme social distancing and embracing aggressive testing.

There’s a third element that has played a key role in their success – superb data collection and transparency.

This is the area where Canada fails most miserably. We need to know the demographic details of who is being infected and where.

The tiresome chirping about so-called privacy rules needs to end. There is no reason we cannot produce granular data without violating any individual’s privacy.

To repeat Dr. Tedros’s important admonition: We cannot fight a fire blindfolded. And the last thing we need to do is blindfold ourselves.

Avon River, Stratford, March 18, 2020. Jaan Pill photo

March 23, 2020 New York Times article notes requirements to reduce coronavirus spread in United States

I will conclude with a brief excerpt from a March 23, 2020 New York Times article
article entitled: “The virus can be stopped, but only with harsh steps, experts say.”

The subtitled reads: “Scientists who have fought pandemics describe difficult measures needed to defend the United States.”

Before I conclude by sharing the excerpt, I will add to comments I’ve made above regarding the structure of news, medical journal, and opinion articles related to COVID-19 or any other topic. I always think of such articles, as well as broadcasts, as having the features of a self-contained world.

In that context, I think we can speak of a conglomeration of self-contained worlds. Such broadcasters as CBC constitute a self-contained world. Spending time in any such world has an effect, I believe, on how a person’s mind works. I like to spend time in the self-contained world of CBC. I like to spend less time in the self-contained worlds of entities such as the New York Times, the Atlantic, the New Yorker, the Associated Press, and the Globe and Mail.

The latter worlds are in a sense alien entities, for me. That said, occasional visits to them, to pick up a little information here and there are in order, for me.

Fitness area at house in Stratford, March 24, 2020. Jaan Pill photo

Of the news sources that are available, aside from CBC I also feel particularly at home with Reuters, which strikes me as a self-contained world that is more congenial, to my way of seeing the world, than some other ones. A sample Reuters news report is a March 24, 2020 article entitled: “Italian coronavirus cases likely ’10 times higher than reported.’ ”

So, by way of conclusion, I refer to a March 23, 2020 New York Times article about how the virus can potentially be stopped in the United States.

The article notes that China, South Korea, Singapore, and Taiwan have demonstrated that the coronavirus can be stemmed.

An excerpt reads:

Whether they can keep it suppressed remains to be seen. But for the United States to repeat their successes will take extraordinary levels of coordination and money from the country’s leaders, and extraordinary levels of trust and cooperation from citizens. It will also require international partnerships in an interconnected world.

Whether or not such extraordinary levels of coordination can be achieved remains to be seen.

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